Archive | June, 2018

Theatre Workshops with Children in Rio and Salvador, Brazil, a post by Violet Kelly-Andrews

23 Jun

Oi gente! My name is Violet Kelly-Andrews and I am a recently graduated student of the University of Michigan (woo!). I majored in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Performing Arts Management and minors in Community Action and Social Change and History. I have worked with PCAP doing workshops in a detention center and forensic psychiatric center and this past year recently worked in in the PCAP office doing an arts administration independent study. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this organization and was thrilled I was able to go to Brazil yet again.Violet 3

Two years ago when I first came to Brazil I went to a workshop in a community center in Rio that completed changed my thoughts on theatre and my privilege as an American theatre student (see my last blog from 2016). That was two years ago when I never thought I would find myself back in Brazil continuing to this work. As it would happen, I returned to Brazil and was able to attend the same workshop I had been to two years prior. Every time I go I am shown more compassion and love than I knew existed. It sounds cheesy, but it is true. All we do in the workshop is play games, but we get to a deeper truth of the impact of love, care, and affection. An example of this was the gift exchange we did. After the first workshop, we picked names out a hat so that we would give a gift to them the following week. I was lucky enough to pick an old friend. I had met this boy the first time I came, and we had gotten to know each other well and, even despite the language barrier, shared many laughs. This year, I walked into the workshop, and the first person I saw was the same boy. Although I do not know if I should call him a boy. I think he would prefer “young man” because now he is a big shot 17 year-old. Still, he was exactly as I remembered yet entirely different. I racked my brain what to give him and decided that I would give him my PCAP t-shirt and a letter. The gift exchange was so important for them not because of the physical gift but the thought behind it. The gift I was given was the best gift of them all: love. I was swarmed with hugs and kisses from all the kids so by the end of this workshop. I felt so full of love and gratitude. It made it sad to leave knowing that this would be my last workshop with such amazing kids in Brazil – or so I thought. Little did I know I found myself in a workshop a week later with more kids in Salvador, Bahia.Violet 2

The group trip had ended but I wanted to fly to Salvador to see the town and spend more time in a different part of Brazil. I was only there for three nights, but on my first night in Brazil I made friends with two women who told me of a social project happening at a community center in Salvador. The two had been before and knew the woman who ran the center. Feeling like this was fate, I asked if they could arrange a workshop in which I would come and lead theatre games. They agreed, and two days later, on my last full day in Brazil I found myself with my two new friends in a blue room full of kids ages 10-19 doing theatre. The kids showed so much appreciation and care to people they had never met. I spoke in broken Portuguese, but really we didn’t need words to have fun and get to know each other. At the end of the workshop I told them this was my last workshop of my trip in Brazil and how grateful I was to meet them. The kids responded in only a way kids would; they all ran to me and hugged me to thank me for spending my time with them. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have been shown such love in two cities in Brazil.Violet 1

I leave Brazil with the two lessons both which these kids taught me. One. It is easy to love. All people in Brazil show a kindness that the rest of the world could use. This is particularly important in theatre and in the work I do. As Brazilian theatre artist, Augosto Boal says, “Empathy is the most powerful weapon.” Without empathy, there is much room for change or growth. Professor Lucas said something very similar about the work we do in prisons, “Joy is the biggest contraband.” Knowing that, the second lesson is knowing you are not a savior. This was something we touched upon while in a class at UniRio about understanding power dynamics. Coming to Brazil to partake in theatre workshops with kids does not mean you are saving them. As a person of this work, one has to go in not seeking anything other than to make human connection. I share my experiences of working in theatre workshops with kids with a sense of fulfillment and pride, but I was not there to change their lives. This work is all about sincerely giving the most of yourself to others.

As I move on in my arts career, I will take these lessons; the empathy, the joy, the love, the awareness and use it as I hopefully continue to work with kids. I am always grateful to the country and people of Brazil for continuing to nurture my growth and remind me of why I do this work. And this time, I won’t be so foolish to think that I won’t return soon.

Until next time Brazil!



The Silent and Silly Heroes of Enfermaria do Riso, a post by Alyssa Gonzales

22 Jun
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Eddie Williams and Aly Gonzales with two of the very talented clowns from Enfermaria do Riso.

Hello, my name is Aly Gonzales, I have participated in PCAP for three years and on a sunny Wednesday morning in Brazil, I woke up at 6:50 am to go to the Hospital Universitário Gaffrée e Guinle to see two clowns. It was twenty minutes later than I planned. It only took two snoozes on my phone’s alarm, low for me, but I was eager to shadow two UniRio students in the Enfermaria do Riso program (the program at the university that sends student clowns into a local hospital to bring the medicine of laughter into a difficult environment). So I made it happen. I managed to patch myself together like a real human, despite the early rise, and made it out the door of our hostel at around 7:15. As my partner for the Enfermaria, Eddie, and I power-walked through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, I saw something of which I was previously unaware. The street-sweepers of Rio were out clearing the sidewalks and driveways of leaves, trash, and remnants of the night before. They paused as we jogged past. As we made our way to the Praça General Osório to catch the Metrô, I stopped to think on them. They were a group of silent heroes. It would be a hard walk without them. You might not realize the difference they are making, or even notice their presence, if you don’t stop to think about it.

Eddie and I made it to Afonso Pena Station on time, luckily. Julia, a clown we would be shadowing that day, met us at the steps. She carried a bright pink bag that squeaked whenever she turned. Julia greeted us with a smile and directed us to the Hospital where the clowns from the program go, where we met the second clown, Katiuscia. The hospital is in a beautiful building, with a grand gate. In many ways, it seems more like a museum or palace than a hospital. Yet, the more I think about it, the more fitting it is. I am used to the hospitals of the United States, with their corporate-like atmospheres. If I was sick, I think I might prefer a beautiful building to comfort me.

We wandered into the depths of the youth ward into a tiny, multipurpose locker room. It was filled with miscellaneous shoes and bags, stuffed in lockers and shoved haphazardly into corners. This tiny understated basement was where the clowns would become clowns. We sat with them as they took off themselves and transformed into their personas. We watched eagerly as the two UniRio students donned tights, slipped into bright skirts, fluffed their hair, and patted white makeup on their faces. Eventually, they pulled out some slightly worn red noses and put them on. From that moment forward, they were Almofadinha and Sabuga. You wouldn’t expect this, but a clown warm up is like a mixture of acting and football. There was a lot of facial movement and noise making, but also running, jumping, and stretching. It is like you might see players doing before a game, but with more flailing and funny faces.

Then, we were off. We began by watching them goof around with the staff. Thinking back on it, interactions with staff was a good portion of the clowning session. Having fun with doctors, nurses, and various other staff members at the hospital seemed to be high on the priority list. I assumed that the bulk of our interactions that day would be with patients. Yet, to the clowns, they were equal. Maybe I took them for granted, too. Working as a doctor or nurse is probably not the easiest thing to do. They are around sick and dying people every day. In order to help people get better, you may also see them at their worst. The people doing this work interact with the sick, the dying, and the loved ones of the dying. That must try a person’s mental health. Theatre, and the joy that accompanies it, is for them just as much as it is for anyone else. The red nose does not discriminate in the joy it brings. As artists and creators, they are a example of the universal nature of theatre.

However, the patients were just as in need of joy as well, and perhaps the main audience for whom the program was intended. It was also what we were most excited about. Almofadinha and Sabuga did not disappoint. The waiting area for pediatrics is more of a patio than a room. It is located between buildings, so the bright sunlight warms the space while a cool breeze blows through it. Mothers and fathers waited with their sick children until their name was called to be seen. In this space, our clowns saw a stage. There was a young girl wearing a light blue dress, with her hair up in pink bows. The outfit resembled that of Almofadinha, and the clowns joked that she might be her long lost daughter. To prove their relation, they performed tricks together, like jumping in a circle and dancing. The mother was amused by the performance, as were most of the other people in the waiting area. After, the clowns did a skit where one clown “stole” the other’s sunglasses and the other clown tried to find them. Aided by Almofadinha’s pseudo-daughter, they played out the bit until one clown eventually caught the other wearing the glasses. The kids waiting were enchanted and thought it was hilarious. Before leaving, the two clowns led the audience in a song. I thought it was amazing, to just pop out a show like that, completely unprepared.

Skits like this continued as we climbed stairs, entered different areas, and joked with more people. A significant moment for me came when we entered the neonatal unit. We had to wash our hands before entering, and in a very specific way. The clowns instructed us on how to properly do this, on how to get the soap into every crevice of our lower arm. This was important not just for the health of those inside the unit, but ours as well. The unit was the size of the average living room and looked like the rest of the hospital, save for one detail. It was filled with tiny incubators. Thankfully, there were not many tiny humans inside these tiny incubators. We visited the parents sat by the three that were occupied. One incubator had a newborn wrapped in a pink blanket. Her mother and father were in the chairs beside her. Sabuga pulled out a tiny music box and wound it up so that it played a lullaby. I couldn’t tell if the baby inside enjoyed the music, or even heard it, but the parents seemed calmed by it. The man even joked around with us in English after we were introduced as the clowns’ American friends. The next incubator was occupied by a tiny baby boy. He was too small to comprehend, definitely too small to be a person. He moved on his own, and I was amazed. I didn’t think something that tiny could do that. I wasn’t sure if he could make it another night. Sabuga played her music box for him, too.

Along the journey through the hospital, we met and clowned around with security, parents, more staff, and of course kids living in the hospital. I didn’t know all their names, or all their diagnoses, but I was happy to see smiles on their faces as the clowns came by. I hope that it made them feel less like they were in a hospital. That is the power of theatre, isn’t it? It is why we labor weeks and months developing characters, doing research, and rehearsing movements. If we, as actors, can transport someone away from the here and now and off into imagination, then we have done our job. The clowns of Enfermaria do Riso don’t have proscenium stage on which to act. They don’t follow a script or a pattern of movement. They see a situation and manipulate it for the amusement of everyone. They transport people to a place of joy, a place of childlike wonder. I was only a shadow to the magic that was happening, but I felt transported as well.

Katiuscia and Julia arrive early at the hospital every Wednesday morning to perform as Sabuga and Almofadinha. Yet, as they told us, many of the staff don’t recognize them as they slip in and out in their daytime wear. They are almost never recognized without the makeup. Most likely, they are never praised or celebrated for this task. At the Hospital Universitário Gaffrée e Guinle, the two women are silent heroes. Just as the anonymous sweepers I saw, life at the hospital might be a hard journey without them. It was not until I saw the face of a young woman light up, despite the fact that she was connected to an IV machine, that I realized the difference a few clowns made in an environment. There may be people in the world that feel that theatre belongs behind a red curtain, belongs to cozy chairs or a box office. To them I say, enter a hospital. Imagine the walls of the building not painted with cries or worry, but with laughs. Theatre is needed there. Theatre belongs there. The children I saw that day will grow up, and maybe they will remember that clowns or maybe they won’t. But, I hope that what I saw made an impact on them. I hope they look back on their stay in the hospital and remember that there was joy there, too. I hope we all take the time once in a while to recognize the smaller heroes, silly and red-nosed as they may be.

Note: Click here to read Aly’s post from her previous trip to Brazil in 2016.

Ideas About Prison Reform: Comparisons Between the U.S. and Brazil, a post by Nikole Miller

21 Jun

Hello beautiful readers! I’m Nikole Miller—a recent University of Michigan graduate and an upcoming first-year law student at the University of Florida. I’ve always been a firm believer of “Everything happens for a reason.” Now, I don’t just say this loosely. So many small factors came together to bring me to the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), and it was all via God’s plan for me.

PCAP—which originated at the University of Michigan—is the largest art-based prison programs in the world. Together, college students and community members, facilitate workshops in adult prisons, juvenile facilities, psychiatric facilities and with formerly incarcerated adults around the world. These workshops include creative writing, music, dance, visual arts, theatre and the combination of them all.

In October of 2017 I began my first workshop at Milan Federal Correction Institution. The eight men I worked with changed my life. My outlook on the criminal justice system had its most drastic change. The life-changing work I was doing inspired me to keep pushing, so I arranged for my schedule to allow another PCAP class. In January of 2018 I began a theatre workshop that blew my mind. We got even deeper in unpacking the justice system through the means of theatre. Adult men grew in front of my very eyes. I knew I had to go to Brasil to expand on this work.

One of my favorite days in the first week of the trip was getting to visit the women’s prison in Florianópolis. Even though we didn’t get to directly interact with the women, they still managed to instill so much in me. See, I want to change the criminal justice system; so when I heard about the inner workings of this particular prison, my brain lit up. Without making the claim that the prison was functioning efficiently, I do want to note that the inmates were extended basic human rights that aren’t considered “rights” in the United States. Each month, family is able to bring in toiletries for their loved ones, in addition to the toiletry kits the government allots each woman. This package might include deodorant, toothpaste, feminine products, and shampoo and conditioner. Whereas here in the United States, hygiene products can’t be so easily given to women. Tampons can be so scarce that they become a form of currency in our prisons—a feminine essential as a bargaining chip. We need to fix this! Allow these men and women proper hygiene; they are humans.

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Women in the prison in Florianópolis receiving instruction from a teacher. This is the same space we later used for theatre workshops.

In addition to the monthly hygiene drop offs, women were required to receive at least minimum wage for their work—another basic right. We have men and women in Michigan making cents on the hour instead of what they deserve. This is modern day slavery happening right before our eyes! In this women’s prison, women were allowed to have jobs outside of the prison walls. Instead of our concept of “parole,” one woman was able to be transferred into a different section of the prison towards the end of her sentence. Here women could continue their job while finishing their sentence, with their bosses’ consent of course. This way women can get oriented with society and a job again before they are thrown off into the streets to fend for themselves. I am a proponent of prison reform, and this visit definitely showed me what type of better options to push when I am in the position to do so. Even the men’s prison I visited showed me some aspects I know I want to stray away from. Both are useful information!

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Our group talking to the warden (in black) at the women’s prison in Florianópolis.

As a future criminal attorney, I want to bring a different kind of outlook on the justice system. I want concern for the inmates well-being to priority number one as opposed to punishment. I want rehabilitation to being a priority over punishment. Education. Basic rights. We need to do better. Visiting Brasil gave me some fresh ideas on what ‘better’ does and doesn’t look like—in terms of health and hygiene, education, rehabilitation and more—and I will forever be appreciative. I always tell my PCAP family: PCAP put a love on my heart that I didn’t know I needed; well now, Brasil has as well. Thank you so much for an amazing PCAP! See you later.

The Fabulous Food in Brazil, a post by Kymberley Leggett

20 Jun
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Kym about to eat a fabulous meal by the water in Florianópolis.

Coming to Brazil has been particularly special for me! This is the first time I’ve left the United States, and I’m so glad I got to do it with such amazing people! I’m an extreme foodie and really appreciate good conversation and good people with my good food. This trip has been perfect for that! I fell in love with the parade of shrimp with Nikole, Ashley, Alè, Vicente, and friends in Floripa. Warm hugs, happy tears, and yummy caipirinhas were shared on our last night there with other loved ones from UDESC (Thank you so much to Naguissa’s family for hosting such a great going-away party!). In Rio, I’ve shared lots of good laughs with Eddie, Sisi, and Nikole over freshly squeezed fruit juice and fried fish. I danced the night away with beautiful people and a stomach full of brigadeiros at Natália’s house. I got to samba and eat cake with the kids in my favela workshop. And last, but definitely not least, I shared one of the best meals of my life with my classmates and friends at a churrasco restaurant, where I won two contests. And these are just a few of the food memories! If I had to describe three of my favorite moments in food, they would be:

Rice and Beans with farofa- Something familiar from home, but still different. We saw a performance in Floripa by NEGA that was about race politics in Brazil. Being a black woman, I felt for much of the performance (despite being able to understand very few of the words). It was nice to see fellow black women standing for justice across the world.
Trufa de Morango- A sweet treat that keeps me wanting more. During our first theatre class in Floripa, we played a game that required us to dance while staying aware of our surroundings. Everyone got to be a little goofy while still keeping it together and organized for the greater group, which is the same thing we must do in the Michigan prisons.
Coxinha- They’re fried and tasty, and since I don’t read Portuguese very well, they’re filled with a surprise! (Editorial commentary from Ashley: That surprise inside the coxinha is chicken.) I was surprised to enjoy our work singing and dancing in the Rio hospital as much as I did. Seeing folks smile in such a scary place gave me so much warmth. It brought me to tears.
Brazil will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you to everyone who touched my life and made this trip happen!!
Kymberley Leggett

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Crab dish served in the crab’s shell with a caipirinha to drink.

Teatro em Comunidades: Theatre in Communities in Rio, a post by Yijia Zheng

19 Jun
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Our group in Florianópolis with Vicente Concilio and Alé Melo.

I’m Yijia Zheng, an upcoming junior majoring in psychology. I took Ashley’s class Theatre and Incarceration last semester, and joined the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) since then. I wanted to learn about the connection between criminal justice system and theatre, as well as how theatre can make a social change in different settings, especially in prison. Therefore I started facilitating two-hour theatre workshops at Woodland Center Correctional Facility, where my partner and I led 9 to 15 incarcerated participants in doing theatre games and improvisational performance together. I signed up for this trip to Brazil because I was curious about the theatre practice under different culture, including the differences in how people express themselves, where people use theatre and how they deliver information through theatre.

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Our group in Florianópolis with administrators from UDESC.


In Rio de Janeiro, we engaged in a local program called Teatro em Comunidades (Theatre in Communities). In this program people lead theatre workshops every Saturday morning in favelas, which is translated into shantytown or slum. However, it is difficult to imagine what these communities are really like. When I stepped in the favela, I didn’t really feel much difference from looking at the appearance of the streets, stores and people. I was asking, “Are we already in a favela?” and the answer was yes. Walking past the stalls and stores, I felt a sense of familiarity. However, knowing that they have no address, no mail delivered, no trash picked up, and no clean water and electricity guaranteed, I realized how people struggle behind the normal appearance of such a community. The sense of privilege and respect are not only easily forgotten by people, but also hard to be embraced at the same time. When we talk about problems, hard life, or even discrimination, we should also see their self-esteem and pride in living their life-style.

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Our group at the women’s prison in Florianóopolis with prison administrators.


This theatre workshop at favela Maré was in a room in the clinic. It was regularly led by a theatre professor and two students at UniRio, and there were about 20 participants from the favela, having a wide range of age groups from little kids to elderly people. Each workshop had a similar structure to those we had in prison – we did warm-up games, then several theatre games, a cool-down game, and finally a closing. During this workshop, I was most impressed by a scenario when we were playing the game “Funky Chicken,” in which random participants were selected one by one to go to the center of the circle to lead the game. There was a shy girl picked to be in the middle of the circle, but she insisted not doing so even after we encouraged her again and again. Then the student Nicolle left her place, went to that girl and gently grabbed her hand, coming to the middle of the circle together. The girl was still too shy to speak or do any movement, so Nicolle spoke for her, “Let me see your funky chicken!” The audience followed the game routine, “What’s that you said?” “She said, let me see your funky chicken!” At last, they started the dance together facing the circle with everyone joyfully participating. That scene was so sweet and unforgettable, and I believe that such a warm, encouraging heart like Nicolle’s would always be appreciated in all workshops. One of the goals of the workshops, no matter in favelas or in other settings, is to build up a friendly community that embraces everyone, loves everyone and cares everyone.

Sharing Our Truths, Love, and Laughter in Brazil, a post by Uche Nna

11 Jun

Hi, my name is Uche Nna, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. I anticipate graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in Gender and Health in December. I thought about joining PCAP after a few friends gave me brief summaries about the work PCAP is involved in and how it has impacted them. I made my true strides to join PCAP after learning about the study abroad program in Brazil. I feel very fortunate to be writing a blog on the final days of our trip. I hope to share with you the moments that impacted me the most. We started this journey on May 20th in Florianópolis, Brazil, and it will come to an official close on June 11th in Rio de Janeiro. In our time here, we have shared our truths, love and laughter within prisons, communities, classrooms, Brazilian homes, and the each other as classmates.

Our time in Rio has been very interesting. We became as mixed up and thrown off by a gas strike as the locals. As the gas strike continued, we watched businesses become empty, signs about being “closed until further notice” went up, the university was closed as students were unable to ride the buses to get to class. As the gas strike moved into its 7th day the roads were barren, we panicked about being able to get to the airport and flying to Rio. We tried to remain cognizant about what our friends in Brazil struggle with when there is conflict, and protest that addresses government policy.

My favorite day in Rio was one of the most exhausting days I had in a while. This day started with my roommate’s alarm at 5:15 am followed by my alarm at 5:30 am. After making our way out of the hostel towards the university, the sun began to rise. We were on our way to prison to do a workshop. When I arrived outside the prison doors of the men’s facility, we joined an assembly of visitors who were shuffled in 4 at a time. By the time we arrived, they were taking in 16-20. I am unsure how long they have been there that day or how early a visitor would have to show up to get a good number. Over the course of 45 minutes, the guards looked out of the 2.5” x 6” rectangular peephole a few times, took our passports, asked us why we had come today and finally let us inside.

Walking through the hallways of the prison, I was really thrown off by how happy some of the staff were to see us. They seemed elated, almost too elated. I was facilitating with about 9 other students (3 from UniRio and 6 from University of Michigan) as we entered the space of our workshop, we began playing catch with each other. One by one men began to pop through the door and joined in with us. There were about 20 men who were in the circle playing this hacky-sack catch game about 10 minutes after the first one came in. We had a fabulous workshop and played about 7 games. Having the space to be playful with the incarcerated men has been amazing over the past few months with PCAP. It always amazes me how quickly they can let their guards down and be fully engaged, excited, and energized through playing games. Theatre in prison enables incarcerated people the opportunity to feel unapologetic joy. Being overzealous and playful in many prison spaces can be dangerous as this is how many people become targets for manipulation and abuse. Theatre gives incarcerated people a break from this and tells them that it is ok to try something new, laugh at oneself, or tell a silly joke. When we were ending the workshop, the men were very excited to tell their future goals. After this, one of the men, who I perceived as a staff member earlier in the day, presented a pile of artwork to us. This is when I realized that some of the staff members were also incarcerated, and I understood why they were so happy to see us.

Later in the day we attended Professor Marina’s graduate class. In this class her graduate student Julia shared some of the work and research she has been doing in women’s prison. She shared information about the disproportionate number of marginalized women, and she read a very impactful letter by one of the women. In this letter the woman says that she wishes she could have been a better mother and daughter. Having wishes like this from the inside can be incredibly painful. Many of us can try to repair and rebuild relationships. The extreme limitations that come with being incarcerated seem to make repairing and rebuilding relationships incredibly difficult. Being able to look back and forward in life and think about the changes we want to make to feel that we have lived a fulfilling life is an extreme privilege. I hope you all reading can act on your wishes and guide the wishes of others when you have the chance. After this long night in Marina’s graduate class we returned to the hostel around 10 pm. The next day was my 22nd birthday, and the fabulous friends at Teatro Renascer sang happy birthday to me and put on an amazing show.


Michigan and UniRio students and faculty with the members of the Teatro Renascer workshop.

Because I am a science student, many people have wondered why I am doing theatre and if it has been uncomfortable or difficult for me. One day I hope to go on to medical school. This work is important to me because I understand that I will not be able to change everyone’s situation, but I hope that I can always pass on joy into the world and provide spaces for people to discover themselves and feel at ease. PCAP continuously rehumanizes me by allowing me to work with the population of incarcerated people, and I am lucky that I am beginning to understand how important it is and how grounding it is to feel human. PCAP helps to humanize the people on the inside, and I am very happy to know this.

Learning to Do Theatre Workshops in a New Context, a post by Hannah Agnew

7 Jun

My name is Hannah Agnew, and I have been working with the Prison Creative Arts Project for a year and a half now. My first workshop was doing theatre with a group of incredible men at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility for a semester. Afterwards, I moved to the Sisters Within at Women’s Huron Valley and have since been continuing to do theatre with the talented women incarcerated there. I decided to come on this trip to Brazil because of the incredible impact theatre has had both on me, my fellow classmates and community members, and the participants of our workshop. Throughout my life, I have never thought of theatre as a tool for social change, but after seeing the influence it had in the U.S. carceral system, I decided that I wanted to see this work in a different context.

Here in Brazil, we have not only been extending our theatre workshops into prisons, but many other social environments. One of the experiences that has particularly stood out to me was our work in the favelas of Rio. The favelas are areas of extremely low economic income where many houses and families lack vital resources such as water, electricity, education, and many other basic human rights. Similar to the ghettos of the U.S, the people of these areas are irrationally stigmatized and ignored by society. When one thinks of the favelas, they tend to jump to the conclusion of danger and violence––forgetting about the humanity of the people that live there.Hannah

My classmates and I were split into three separate workshops within the favelas. I, along with Ashley and several other PCAPers were sent to a site in Maré where we would work with a group of teenagers ranging from around ten to nineteen years old. Going into it, I was not quite sure what to expect. The only theatre for social change I had previously done was in the context of prisons, never in any other social or cultural settings. But it was so beautiful. The workshop was led by Diego Marques, one of the Brazilian theatre students from UniRio that had come to Michigan in March. Instead of leading the workshop, as I have typically done with PCAP, I followed along with all of the participants. Together, we interacted in different dance, improv, rhythmic and theatre games for several hours.

What never fails to amaze me when it comes to using theatre as a tool in various social environments is when you become so immersed that for a minute, you can forget about what separates you all. In my experience, the workshop and those I have facilitated in prisons have been so focused on working as a collective to create something that the dividing walls of culture and class were forgotten about––all I could think about how hilarious the kid on stage was, pretending to be a dinosaur that accidentally killed his friend with poisonous pancakes. It was shocking how similar the effect of theatre was in an entirely different cultural and social environment.

In both U.S. prisons and Brazilian favelas, these theatre workshops went to show that anybody has the capacity to create art. In most societies, as a collective we tend to turn a blind eye to those who are different or deemed “unfit” to function normally simply because of a social situation that they are in. In the U.S., we label those who have gone through the carceral system as villains and unable to provide anything useful towards the world––we lack the empathy to understand how their circumstances and our racially/socially charged legal system led them to be incarcerated in the first place. In Brazil, it seems the favelas are so stigmatized with violence and danger that those living in them, which is 25% of Rio’s population, are forgotten about or even romanticized––people lack the motivation to support them or understand how the severe lack of resources affects their lives. While theatre does not solve these problems, it gives some insight into how much things change when we treat each other as equals and work collectively––regardless of each other’s backgrounds. It is so important that we provide resources to people in all walks of life, not just in the areas to which we choose to pay attention.


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